Did you Like this Book?
About the Author
Also by the Author
Man at Large
Copyright 2016 George Donnelly
Shakespir Edition, License Notes:
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. But, seriously, please share this book with your friends.
Man at Large
Book 1 in the Femforcers Series
Women rule. Uncommitted men rot in prison awaiting selection by overworked, love-starved spinsters.
Cocksman Nick Chesterton just got dumped. With a return to Broseg No. 34 in the offing, he publicly ridicules his ex and finds himself a fugitive from the Femforcers on a sexist meme charge.
But the lovelorn ladies of war-torn Eritrea liked his meme. They invite Nick to visit their African nation, select a bride, or three, and live happily ever after. Or so they say.
Facing six weeks in Femforcer sexcamp, Nick must make a life-altering decision between the loss of his sexual identity and the risk of multiple marriages in a jihadi war zone.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2016 George Donnelly
The author greatly appreciates you taking the time to read his work. Please consider leaving a review wherever you bought the book or telling your friends about it to help spread the word.
Get 3 free books at GeorgeDonnelly.com.
For a more peaceful relationship between the sexes…
umm, among the genders?
“It’s just not working out.”
She glared at me from the other side of our spacious forty square meter capsule, her eyes red and puffy.
Something heavy fell loose in my chest and I walked to her. “Look, baby, it’s not you, it’s me. I’m—”
She pushed me away. The look said it all — hurt, hate, vulnerability, pain. “You’re damned right it’s you. I’m breaking up with you! Get out now. I want you back in Broseg in time for lunch!”
“Now wait. I broke up with you.” This was veering dangerously off track.
Emmeline was a good girl. She cooked, cleaned and screwed on schedule. She just wasn’t for me. There was no oomph, no chemistry, no excitement. She was just a boring mid-level executive at a fully automated cheese puff manufactory.
She had no greater aspirations. Didn’t even want to travel. Only wanted one kid. Hated the forest. I mean, come on, zzzzzzzzz.
She pulled that sheet of paper from her bra drawer.
“So you’ve been planning this?”
“I’m on record at the MMA as having initiated this process the same day I pulled you out of Broseg.” She gave me that raised eyebrow.
She thought she was so smart. I guess she was. I was cornered. The Men’s Management Administration would consider it an open and shut case. Recidivist man disappoints woman. Man is remitted to Broseg. It was the most common story, hundreds of cases per week. There’d be no appeal. They wouldn’t even listen to my objections.
“Not only,” she said, her lips pursed as if dealing with a disagreeable insect, “are you losing your regular lay and your home, but you’re broke. I’m filing for half of everything you have. And the other half of your pathetic savings will burn up in taxes and fees. You’re back to zero, Nick. You’ll be borrowing again in a week. Too bad you didn’t think of that before you refused to wash the dishes.”
The shake was coming on. That thing where my body vibrates and I can’t control it. My voice goes up a few octaves and my throat seizes up. I go cold. Yeah, that was happening. I took three deep breaths but the shake frequency increased.
I’d spent fifteen months, three weeks, two days and twelve hours building up that nest egg. I’d scrubbed toilets, programmed robots, planted sorghum, harvested tilapia and extracted semen from gorillas.
Along the way, I got three skin infections, one acute case of hantavirus, a broken arm from a freaked out bot, random and assorted lacerations and a frisky hug from Coconut, the local alpha gorilla.
I’d dreamed of a woman the whole time. My ideal woman. Five-four, 36-24-36, cooks with a baby blue apron on — and only that, if you know what I mean — good cook, brunette, long hair, maybe Italian, gives good head, a co-conspirator in my scheme to rule the world, just our world, you know, nothing big. A strong but loving mother. My first mate on the ship of life.
I never saw the shit stains or the kicked-in robot chassis. Even as I panicked from Coconut’s hug, I warmed inside because it felt like love.
I found my center. I calmed, just a little. “You don’t need my money. You get the basic income and you have your corporate gig. Come on.”
She turned her back to me. “Someone needs to teach you a lesson. To stand up for women everywhere.” She turned around, her face like an overused bath scrub. “I deserve a good man. A man with the smile of Tom Cruise, the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the altruism of Ryan Gosling in Drive.”
“Look, baby, it’s just that you’re hitting the wall. I mean, next week is your 28th birth—”
“And you’re not giving it to me! Get out! Before I call the Femforcers on you.”
I knew how these things went down. There was no saving it now. I’d give her a week to cool off. She’d miss me. I’d get her to delay her claim on my assets. Push it back a week, a month and the clock might just run out. In three years.
Or I could withdraw the limit every day and I might just save some of it.
I grabbed my shirt and stepped into my shoes. I pulled my trusty Google Men® backpack from behind the washing machine. It was all in there — my ID, my release papers, a change of clothes and Dad’s Victorinox Night Vision watch.
I could go. Dad, the forest up north. Just another runaway man. I’d be out of their hair. They wouldn’t care.
“That’s it! I’m calling the Femforcers!” She reached for the phone.
I flung open the door and flew down the curved steps. I grabbed the metal handle and turned it. It wouldn’t budge. She was blabbering now, her voice taking on that righteous Elizabeth-Warren tone. This was my chance and a damned door lock was blowing it. She’d never trusted me with the keys.
“Hey, baby, the door is locked! Can you come unlock—”
The top step creaked.
My skin crawled and a chill ran up my back.
“Just you wait there.”
Bitch. Oh I knew better than to say it. I’d get myself a week in the hole for that. I threw my shoulder against the door. A deep ache ran through my back and to my heart. There was no give.
Three Femforcer buggies showed up for my extraction. Round-topped pink four-doors. The seats were wide but there was no legroom, especially in the back.
Six of them, three tight-shirted roly-polies, two buzz-cut butches and an emo girl in a pink tutu that was almost acceptably good-looking, if not for the permanent stinkface.
I got stuck with two butterballs. They stank of salami and sewage. Unwashed hair. No makeup. Little hairs grew around their mouths.
My stomach turned.
An orange and white tomcat sat in a birdcage next to me. He rolled over on his back. Adopt me, the poor guy said. Get me away from these nutty bitches!
The silent motor came on and the car vibrated lopsidedly. I was pushed higher as the second Femforcer got in, like a toddler raised up on a seesaw when his obese grandma plopped down on the other side.
I pulled out my phone and teleported to another world. I brought up FaceSmash and found a photo of Emmeline. That one where I wanted to take a good picture of her, to capture her beauty, but she was upset about not getting that promotion.
At the top, I typed in, “Pulls you out of Broseg.” At the bottom, I typed, “Takes all your $$ and calls the Femforcers.” I published it and put my phone away.
The buggy hit a pothole. The flab on the Femforcers rose and convulsed. The tomcat stuck a paw through the cage and scratched me.
The bars clanged shut behind me. Broseg genpop. Broseg because it was male-only, secure housing. Never mind that it used to be a prison. Those emptied out fast after they decrimed drugs and passed the basic income. Corrections Corporation of America needed a new line of business and housing penniless unmarried men was just the thing.
“Nick!” A chunky arm floated in the air ahead of me like an inflatable man in a hurricane. He waddled up to me and we slapped hands.
“We’ve got the DAC going, bro. Dank memes at ten thousand an hour!”
“I’m just not in the mood.” My chest hung heavy and my neck was tighter than Emmeline’s you-know-what. I had to get some rest. Six months of trying to satisfy her took its toll.
Larry grabbed my arm. “No, seriously, you gotta see this. We actually programmed the DAC to search out and respond to Femforcer threads with manly memes. You won’t believe some of these girls’ responses.”
I stopped and narrowed my eyes. “Setting aside the question of why this isn’t a waste of your time and mine, don’t you need to pay the DAC to get it to do this?”
Maddox and Jeff trotted over. The former my big bro, the latter an old bud from high school, I hung out with them because they relieved my boredom and isolation.
“No, look guys.” I took a step backwards. “Seriously, I have to get some rest.”
But they grabbed my arms and dragged me in. The struggle against women continued.
“I really owe you. Thanks.” I made my best sad-grateful face with my trademarked pout and lowered brows. I don’t think it worked.
“Yes, you do. I expect you to eat out twice per day and a solid lay at least three times a week. You don’t come until I do! You’ll clean the house every Saturday and sweep the kitchen clean every night. Are we clear?”
Hanna was tired. Some rubbish job kept her stressed out. Make-work tracking robots for maintenance. A bot should be doing it. But she was a strong, independent woman and strong, independent women worked. They had jobs, responsibilities, important ones. The world might spin off its axis if not for strong, independent women pushing against the collapsing pillars of society!
At least she wasn’t a roly-poly. She kept her black hair shoulder length. She smelled alright.
The car stopped. Horns beeped behind us.
“I said, are we clear?”
“Yes, of course!”
“Repeat it back to me and make it quick.” She engaged the parking brake with a crunch and I put a protective hand over my groin.
I rolled up my window. A car screamed past us on the left, a fattie giving us the finger.
“Oral twice per day, a good lay three times per week—”
“Or more! If you want it…”
“Cleaning once per week—”
She disengaged the brake and hit the gas pedal. Another car tried to pass us on the left and our fenders came within millimeters. I exhaled. My chest ached. They say you can’t have a heart attack at twenty-five, but I was about ready.
“I’m sorry. It’s just been so stressful lately and I haven’t had a man in my life since…”
“Four months, three weeks, two days and a couple of hours.” She laughed out loud. I loved that laugh, it was like the uncorking of a champagne bottle. Pure joy. It was under pressure. It needed to get out.
I grabbed her hand and rubbed my thumb under her knuckles. She was getting chubby, that way girls bulk up when they stress-munch too many carbs. It was ugly. “I’m going to cook for you.”
“Really!” She shot me that toothy grin of hers and I fell back through time. Things were so good between us. What went wrong?
“As soon as we get in, can we just go to bed. I’m shaved. I’ve got the wine you like chilled and you can get started while I take a quick—” Her phone strummed like an angry guitar and she tapped her ear to answer.
Her face turned dark and she looked at me.
“Understood, ma’am, but I just need an hour— Yes, of course. It’s just—” She hung up.
I waited in silence, not sure if I should speak or pop the door and throw myself out into the brush. We zipped by a little forest. I could dive out, limp over there, climb a tree and they wouldn’t find me for at least a half hour.
“So you posted something about your ex?”
“That? I know it was a bad idea but it was the heat of the—”
“The Femforcers have deemed it a sexist meme. There’s an APB out for you. I’m supposed to bring you in.” She pulled the car over, jammed the emergency brake into place and slid down into the seat. “Five years, Nick. Can you even imagine how I feel!”
“They put out an APB… for a meme?”
“I’m talking about my feelings here, Nick! Jesus, you are emo-deaf. I’m so oppressed right now!”
Now I remember why it didn’t work out. “We’ll go to a hotel. They won’t find us there.”
“I’ll have to check in under my name, Nick. And they know I’m with you. God, you are so dense! You ruined this! You ruined my special day! You ruined your second chance. I don’t give second chances, Nick!”
“I ruined this? Do you know what kind of torture— Screw this.” I popped the door and put my foot on the soft gravel slope just past the ragged edge of the blacktop. My foot slipped, my back slammed into the rocks and my head cracked on the foot guard. I slid into a watery ditch.
She punched the accelerator and a cloud of dust and rocks fell into my open mouth.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry and complain but I pushed all that away. I was a man and the Femforcers were hot on my trail. Hanna probably already snitched on me.
I was a mess. I wouldn’t make it far. But it was getting dark. I picked my leg up and it wouldn’t come. Mud. I reached up to get leverage. I burrowed my hand into the rock and dirt. I pulled. My left leg came out, encased in muck. But my right leg sank deeper.
Sweat poured down my forehead and over my eyes. The other side of the pit rose even higher. A thin root was my only hope. I secured my phone in my teeth and fell forward.
One hand landed on the root strand and my phone-filled mouth hung just millimeters from the murky liquid. Something shiny and dark jumped and skidded off my pants.
I could swear it was trying to get inside my jeans. I shook it off and pulled. I freed my foot and climbed up the embankment, one foot rising, then plunging even lower in the soft, wet dirt.
I got to the top, dirt jammed in under my fingernails, my pants heavy from the water and mud, my front a sticky mess, my whole being perfumed with the foulness of some dead animal. Who knows how long he was in that hole or how deep. No one was coming to bury him.
Police sirens raced toward me. Cars slowed. People pointed. I trudged into the forest.
I found a nice solid trunk and reclined. The moss below my butt was soft but the wind picked up and I chilled. A tremor ran through me. I wanted nothing more than a warm bed with the closest roly-poly.
I pulled my phone out of my teeth and brought up FaceSmash.
“We know your name and we have your face. We’re coming for you, you cis-white scum. You’re shit. We’re going to cut off your little buddy. We’re going to stuff it and hang it on the wall at Femforcer Central.”
“His name is Nick Chesterton and he lives in Broseg No. 34 because his girl just dumped him for failure to satisfy. He has ED, a micro-dick and whines in his sleep. Pull him out under girlfriend pretenses, then rape and murder him. The world needs another example of fempower.”
I rubbed my forehead. This was getting out of hand now. I scrolled down. There were dozens, maybe hundreds more like it.
An alert jumped onto my screen. “Your account is permanently banned for misogyny and hate speech. Go die in a fire. — FaceSmash Safe Speech Team.”
I read the words over and over again. Go. Die. In. A. Fire. They wouldn’t fit in my mind. I couldn’t figure it out.
I looked back at the road, my head unsteady on my shoulders, my mouth panting of its own accord. Two cop cars leered at me. They blocked the road on both sides. Thin men in blue suits stood behind the cruisers, guns drawn. One pulled out a megaphone.
I tried to stand up. My legs denied me access. Like a total newb, I’d let them cool. Now they were numb. I grabbed the trunk and pulled my body up. I lumbered off, away from the forest and the cops, their megaphone droning in the distance behind me, the words garbled beyond recognition.
Up ahead a high, concrete fence blocked my path. I put my ear against it. It might be a housing development. There might be an empty house or someone who’d take me in.
My phone rang. “Yo.”
“Dude, have you even seen—” It was Larry.
“Yeah, I’m public enemy number one. I need a place to stay. Know anyone around here?” I punched up my coordinates and sent them to him.
“Dude, you are public enemy number one, man. What the hell were you thinking?”
I clenched my teeth. I wanted to scream. With friends like Larry, who needed ignorant boobs to ask stupid questions at life-or-death moments?
“Oh, right, yeah, Maddox is looking that up for you. Hey, did you see the reaction from these African girls? They love you, man.”
“What African girls?” The sun fell behind the mountains and a twilight gloom enveloped the world. Crickets chirped and something rustled in the forest. I ran around the corner and waited, my eyes on the trees.
“Maddox is sending you the link. Dude, you’re like a celebrity now in this place, what is it? Er-rat-try-uh, thanks man. Dude, ever heard of Er-rat-try-uh?”
“You mean Eritrea? Isn’t there a war going on there?”
“Whatever. Just read it.” He cut the connection.
I found his message and brought up the link. Eritrean Women Love America’s Most Sexist Man, the headline read.
Most sexist man? I posted one meme. One lousy meme and I’m the most sexist?
I scanned the rest of the article. Desperate Eritrean women have lost all their good men to the war with Somalia and the South Sudan Jihadis. They want me to come visit them and take home a bride. Or two.
I dialed Larry. “This is a stupid joke. Where’d you get this? Derfhole?”
“I swear, it’s—”
A sharp screech replaced Larry’s voice and my phone went dead.
“We know you’re in there! Come out with your hands up and your fly zippered!”
“So are you going?”
“Eritrea? Are you kidding me?”
I had a new phone, a kiddie job I picked up at the A-to-Z for four of my last seven bucks.
“Are you going to surrender?” There was that high pitch that came out in Larry’s voice when he got tense.
“Listen, I got this. You just worry about getting yourself out of Broseg. Drop the pounds. Stick with the diet. You do your cardio yesterday?”
“Aw man, I for—”
“Don’t even start. You want out? Drop the pounds.”
“But what about—”
“Just do your cardio. You’re getting too comfortable in there.” I cut the connection and looked up at home. Well, mom’s house. A squat, pink rowhome on a run-down city block. She was a lesbian now. That’s what the Times article on her girlfriend said. Wife now.
I strode up the concrete steps from the sidewalk. It was dark inside and I started to shiver. I had that dry, hollowed out feeling after a night on the street, running from the cops.
They’d painted the door black but that smell remained, like spring showers mixed with motor oil and burning cookies.
I shouldn’t be here. I turned and stopped myself. Where would I go? Nowhere. Fast. I turned back around and mustered all my strength. I knocked.
Feet thudded from far away like the approach of falling bombs. The door swung open.
“What do you want?”
The beast that faced me was unlike any woman I’d laid eyes on before. Brittle gray hair fell in straight lines around the wrinkled mush face of a centenarian. Sloppy breasts fell to her waist. I couldn’t. I looked away.
“Oh! Nick?” She grunted. “Whatsamatter? Haven’t seen breasts before? You’re not a little boy anymore, you know.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me inside with the strength of a butcher. The door slammed behind me.
“Is my mom around?” The house looked the same. A half-dozen cats lounged around on the backs of sofas and the tops of bookcases filled with female action figures and tiny porcelain penises. Tumbleweeds of cat hair floated on the scuffed hardwood floor. The Xmas tree was still up but it seemed to have more matted hair of indeterminate species than actual tinsel.
The top of the stairs creaked. “What are you doing here? Knocked up some girl? Looking for money? Well, I ain’t got none.”
“Don’t be so hard on him.” My mom’s wife laid an arm over my shoulder and pressed her boobs into me.
“I just need a place for—”
“No. Get outta here. Femforcers already been on the phone to me three times this morning.”
I turned to leave but I had to know. “Did you turn me in, Mom?”
The stairs creaked and she was gone. I threw open the front door, turned left and jumped down to the sidewalk. I ran three blocks straight down, past trees growing out of cracked pavement, angry mama pit bulls and round old men watering their concrete gardens.
I found a quiet alley and installed myself behind a green dumpster. My lungs expanded and contracted under their own control as if I was on a ventilator. No options. No way out but through the Femforcers.
My muscles ached, my lungs burned and my stomach growled. But new vigor coursed through my arteries. The air tasted of freedom and ideas for my newfound liberty flashed through my mind. I smiled despite myself. Running from Femforcers was a lot more fun than listening to Larry whining.
My phone buzzed and a message popped up. “You’re surrounded. Come in now and we will only send you to sexcamp for six weeks. — The Femforcers LLC.”
Sexcamp! The only place where you’re guaranteed zero sex. These Orwellian bitches!
Another message pushed down the first. “Hello darling Nick! I am Fnan from Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea. On behalf of the Eligible Spinsters of Eritrea, we invite you to visit our fine country on holiday, all expenses paid, so that you might meet our lovely girls and perhaps select a devoted bride or two. Or even three. Your tickets await you at the African Airlines counter at the airport. We hope to see you soon!”
“I thought it would be hotter.”
“I’m actually kind of cold.” The corrugated sheet metal awning partially blocked my view of the sky. A lazy gray cloud drifted in front of the sun. A horse-drawn buggy passed by, carrying a load of scrap metal. Probably to be melted down into bullets. Or AK-47s. A rat-tat-tat echoed in the distance, maybe in the hills surrounding Asmara. It was far enough away I wasn’t worried.
My brother set down his fork and sat up straight, his eyes wide. “Was that gunfire? Again?”
I grinned. “Relax. It’s not near.” I ripped off a piece of soggy flatbread and scooped up the last dribbling of a surprisingly tasty yellow paste. I chugged a bottle of Nestle mineral water and examined the label. No way this was the real thing. Some cheap knockoff, for all I knew it was radioactive goat bile. Faintly tasted like it, too.
“Made a choice yet? That Fnan is pretty cute. Final day.” He snapped up the last chunks of mystery meat, mopped up the remaining crimson paste and disappeared it into his mug.
“Seven women have convinced themselves I plan to marry them. It’s insane.” I sat back against the hard wooden chair and burped. It was a good trip. I didn’t want to get married. But if I turned down all these women, it was back home. The Femforcers were waiting and I faced up to three years in sexcamp.
Maddox downed his coffee, scraped his seat against the cement floor and walked out into the sun. A cinnamon-skinned woman with a baby blue hijab stopped and smiled at him. It was a great smile.
Three more approached me, their hands out, their heads wrapped in a delicate salmon fabric, their lips painted red and their eyes surrounded by pink makeup. It was just too much.
“Come to our house, we will feed you.”
I ran. I ditched my bro. I pushed through a curtain. I stepped around the cook, the stink of blood and guts stewing in the tiny space over an open charcoal fire. I stepped out into the sun and looked up at the scrub mountain. Jeeps and tanks circled each other and the rat-tat-tat of the AK-47s echoed like breaking glass across the valley.
This was crazy. It was a stupid idea. And now three years of sexcamp awaited me.
I ran behind the brick buildings and shacks, turned right through a meat market and found the main street. Women came from nowhere and everywhere.
“Nick! Wait!” A gaggle of women crowded around Maddox. He was gone.
I ran down the short block and turned left. My hotel towered at the end, like a Cinderella castle.
A jeep turned onto the street and I stopped. A dozen armed men sprouted from the vehicle at all angles, dressed in tan, pine green and chocolate brown camouflage with little black berets. It accelerated, then screeched to a stop in front of me.
The soldier in the passenger seat stood up and pointed at me. “You! Nick, they call you?”
I nodded. The buildings were wall to wall here. No exit.
“You marry Eritrean woman, then you join us in fight against Moo-slem invaders. Understand? You are in my unit. Elite!”
I nodded. Join the army? Fight Jihadis? What the hell had I gotten myself into?
“Let me hear you say it. ‘Yes, suh.’” He gestured with his bone-thin arms and shook his curved rifle in the air.
“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.
“Louder! Or the battle begins now.” He pointed the rifle at me and charged a round.
The world spun a little. Was this really happening? Was I in a video game. I examined the graphics on the soldier’s face. Too good for 8K. “YES, SIR!”
“Good, now get out of my way.” The jeep blasted past me and I was left sucking up biofuel fumes.
“Hey, bro, wait up!”
Maddox ran toward me, at least fifty women short-step trotting along behind him, their ankle-length, skin tight dresses stretching and revealing. I sprinted into the hotel, found the elevator and jammed my index finger into the number twenty-four. Women poured into the lobby. The door closed. I leaned against the back wall and wheezed.
“I see you are very popular.” The tone was honey, the rhythm like a soft morning bird call.
I opened my eyes and looked to my left, my jaw at my groin. Raven hair, smoothed straight back. Emerald green eyes behind curvy eyelids. Baby blue dress from neck to toe. She was small. I did the math. About five-four. Thin but with hips and ample bosom. If she wasn’t 36-24-36, she was Godblessedly close!
“Hi!” My mouth went dry.
Her smile radiated excitement and embarrassment. If she’d been whiter, her flushed face would have been painfully obvious. She offered me her hand. “I’m Fatima. What’s your name?”
“Nick. You’re… You’re—” Hold on, I told myself. Don’t compliment her. It’s the surest way to screw it up. Say something funny, ask her something interesting. Just say something!
The elevator pinged and the door opened.
She stepped forward, then turned and looked at me over her shoulder. My lungs seized up and junior rustled below. My tongue moved but no air passed over it.
A fat, old black man in camouflage strode towards her and grabbed her arm. “The general has been waiting five minutes for you. Do not forget your place, slave!” The crack from his slap actually made me jump.
She looked back at me and the elevator doors closed.
“Just keep an eye for any military.”
“Hey, I got my own girl waiting.” Maddox snapped his fingers.
“You actually picked just one?”
He made an angry face, the kind that means I better shut up or he’s going to shut me up. That was a privilege big brothers had. They got to use credible threats of violence to get their way. But today was different.
“Invite her over. She can play lookout too.”
I headed towards the back of the restaurant and nodded at the chef. He shot me a bright white smile and gestured at the table.
That’s what a C-note bought you in Asmara, Eritrea — a private dinner date with the Supreme Leader of the Eritrean Army’s captured Muslim slave girl. Right next to the boiling sheep soup and the bled-out pig.
But would she show?
I surveyed the two chairs. One rocked back and forth on uneven legs. The other looked like it was a sacrificial altar for sheep. I took the sacrificial altar and waited.
I’d found her an hour later in the lobby, after our elevator rendezvous. She’d lost her radiance. Her dress was ripped.
“Are you really a slave?” I’d asked her.
Her face told me everything.
“What if I could take you away from here?” Going around saving Muslim slave girls was not my thing. Ask anybody I know and they’d look at you like you were speaking Afghani. I mind my own business. I even go to church sometimes.
She said nothing but her mask came down and that sad-happy pout melted my heart.
She was the girl for me. It was an ugly world. You couldn’t expect perfection anymore. She was still young. I don’t know why, okay? We had chemistry. Every skin cell trembled around her. The heart wants what it wants, alright? Get off my back.
And then I told her where to meet me.
Breaking a slave out of Africa was new territory for me. I couldn’t afford to risk it unless I knew she was the one.
The curtain fluttered and there she stood, a well-shapen hip cocked to one side, a mischievous lopsided grin on her face and the tip of her engorged tongue tickling her luscious lips.
I motioned for her to sit down and nodded to the chef. He grinned and set to serving. My stomach fluttered and spasmed.
“So, you want to rescue me, eh? Are you my knight in shining armor?” She giggled.
My eyes went wide and I sighed. Her blemish-free, copper skin. Her long, black hair. Those sharp brows, curvy eyes and strong cheeks.
I was smitten.
But common sense had to make an appearance, no matter how brief. I leaned in. “Do you want to be rescued?”
“You don’t know anything about me. Maybe you just want to make me your slave?”
The food arrived, an oversized metal disk covered in flatbread with piles of yellow, black and crimson pastes and stews. She ripped off a hearty chunk of bread and dug in.
“Do you want to be my slave?”
“All you have are questions. Why are you so interested in me?” She shoveled a lamb stew in one hand and some hummus in another.
How much do I tell her? Do I bare my soul? The standard answer was: never!
But this was a Muslim slave girl in Eritrea in the middle of a war on my last night. It was now or never. Make the play for my dream girl or suck it forever.
I took a drink of Nestle mineral water and looked at the ceiling. “I’ve met at least five hundred girls here in Eritrea.” I met her eyes and she met mine. “I know lots of girls back home. But none of them are as feminine as you. You’re my dream girl. You’re the right shape, the right height. You’re gorgeous. You’re beautiful. So beautiful.” I gestured to her face and her chest. My face heated up and I fanned myself.
She leaned forward and laughed, her mouth open. She hid her eyes from me. I’d made an impression. This might just work.
“I want to take you with me. I’m leaving here tomorrow morning and you’re coming with me. If you want.”
She looked back at me. She squinted and wiped her cheeks. “They burned my papers in front of me. I could sneak out only because the general is busy defending the capital. I can’t go.” She moved to get up.
“Wait.” I grabbed her hand and held it. “I don’t want you to go back to him.”
“He is the top general in Eritrea. His soldiers will stop us no matter where we go!”
“Do you like me?”
Her face softened and she smiled. “Do you want children?”
“Now who’s only asking questions?” I leaned in. Like I said, dude, it’s all or nothing.
She leaned towards me and I caressed her lips with mine. Angels danced around me. My heart zipped and my groin sparked. Oh, this was it.
I stood up and grabbed her hand then sat back down and rearranged junior. I stood up again and pulled her out through the dining room.
“We’re going. I don’t care how. We’re leaving.”
We stepped outside and five hundred camera flashes discharged at once.
“How did you guys even get here?”
“We paid those hookers to check us out.”
I wanted to stand up but they’d tied me to a chair in my hotel room. Maddox, Larry and Jeff reclined on the couch in front of me, their pot bellies sticking out from under their faded t-shirts, beers in their hands.
“Hey, where is Fatima? And why am I tied to this chair!” I jerked my arms and legs. The chair creaked but nothing gave. For a bunch of losers, they sure know how to tie knots.
“I knew the boy scouts would be good for something, someday.” Larry guffawed and the others laughed with him.
“Fatima’s life is in danger. I could lose her forever. You need to—”
Larry stood up and dusted the crumbs off his belly. “There is no chance we are letting you marry one of these girls. That’s why we came. Maddox said you were in trouble. You might remember the pledge we all made together a couple years ago. ‘Men, going their own way, bros before hoes and I ain’t getting married no how, no way!’ Ring any bells, dude? We’re getting you on that plane tomorrow morning, safe, sound and ring-free.”
“Hey, boys, why don’t you come and play?” A dull-skinned girl in a nurse’s uniform stumbled out of the bedroom. Her face was smooth but the eyes were dead. Her head rotated to look at him, then stopped and bounced back and forth.
“Trixie is ready! Oh, yes!” Jeff stood up and wiggled his behind, his crack showing above his jean shorts.
“Guys, there are five hundred girls right outside. There are ten thousand more across this country who signed up to meet guys like us. And you went to the trouble of assembling that thing?” These guys were hopeless. I didn’t even know what to say to them anymore.
Jeff burped. “Hell, no! This is the sixty-nine ninety. It self-assembles!” He trotted ahead and pinched the robot girl’s butt.
It chirped a recorded giggle.
I wiggled in the chair again. No good. They tied my hands behind my back, my chest to the chair and even my knees and ankles. These guys weren’t good at anything other than mass-producing Cheeto-scented farts and ableist knock-knock jokes. When the hell did they learn all this?
“Guys, I gotta get to this girl. She’s a slave and she could be—”
“A slave?” Maddox stood up. “You fell in love with a slave girl? Don’t tell me, you’re going to rescue her. Oh my God, talk about white-knighting. What are we—”
A low rumble started below us and then a great chatter like a million rattlesnakes whispering to each other. The door burst open and in poured women: teenagers, twenty-somethings and over-forty cougars wearing leopard-spot tights. Short hair, long hair, frizzy curls and straight locks, chocolate brown, almost-white and everything in between.
They descended on me, their painted fingernails reaching, their red-lipped mouths moving.
“I want to cut off his balls! And make soup with them.”
“I agree, Lindy, but this needs to be democratic.”
I cracked my eye. I tried to move but my arms and legs were tied down to the bed. My range of vision extended only to the ceiling and a tiny sliver of the living area. I wanted to ask them if I got a vote, too, but I knew the answer and I needed the element of surprise.
“We can get those other guys, too. Who knows how many of these poor African girls they’ve pumped and dumped already. I hate them! I hate them! All men should die!”
More voices joined in, whispering in harsh tones, not unlike that snake sound I’d heard before. I hoped the guys were alright. I really did.
Because I needed them to get me out of this!
The sharp shing of a knife being drawn and my body went as rigid as a three-day-old corpse.
“Guys, I think we should take turns with him first. I’m just saying… I don’t know about you, but I have needs. Real, strong needs and this guy is pretty hot. So, yeah.”
A burst of chatter erupted as they all blabbered at once. It was the kind of noise that would cover my escape. If only I could get free. I rocked back and forth.
The chatter stopped.
“Did you hear that? I think he’s trying to escape!” Lindy yelled.
The chatter began again, lower this time. A girl appeared in the doorway.
“Who do you think you are anyway? The white man who’s going to ride in on your high horse and save all these people? You can’t do anything for them.”
I blinked a dozen times, looked away and looked back. It was really her. “Hanna, why did you come here?” I tried to sit up and the ropes cut deeper into my forehead, neck and chest.
Her face got tight and she bit her lip. “What are you doing here? You need to come back with me.”
“What about your friends? Is there gonna be anything left to go back to? Cut me free.”
She crossed her arms and shook her head. “This is for your own good.”
I summoned my most genuine face. The fate of my boys hung in the balance. “I want to go home, with you. Cut me loose and we can go.”
She nodded and stepped forward.
The chattering stopped and heavy footsteps landed outside. Hanna fell into the wall and a new, wider presence blocked my view.
“Oh, you’re not going anywhere. Not until we fix you.” One lazy eye looked to my left and I struggled to decide which one to focus on.
Hanna stood back up. “He’s my boyfriend, Lindy. We just got back together. Hands off!” She pushed the roly-poly but bounced back into the wall.
Lindy produced a knife and was on the bed. The ropes loosened a little and I fell towards the foot of the bed. She unbuckled my pants and I couldn’t help myself. Junior grew up.
I searched for anything, any thought, no matter how horrid — poop, old men, the smell of liverwurst, anything — but he kept growing. A rough hand pulled down my underwear and he popped free, towering above my spread-eagled body like a flag pole over a conquered nation.
Icy, cold hardness touched me down there and I startled.
Lindy laughed and looked back at the other girls. “He’s a pussy. He’s not a real man.”
I lifted up my head. “Which of you is making my sandwich? I want ham on rye with Swiss cheese, Batavia lettuce, one slice of beefsteak tomato and some Dijon mustard. You know what, I’m hungry. Make that two sandwiches and a six pack of Red Stripe. And get something for yourselves.”
Lindy leaned forward, a new light in her face. She nuzzled her nose against junior.
For a split second I doubted myself. Then the girls stampeded for the door and slammed it behind them.
I lay back down and focused on my breathing. Girls. This shit always worked, everywhere, in any situation. I wanted to put my hands behind my head and gloat but I still had a problem.
The front door clicked and Lindy appeared, a little green pairing knife in her hand.
“You don’t think I’m that stupid, do you?”
I found a point on the wall and fixed my eyes on it.
Lindy was jerking her hips in a depraved striptease. It reminded me of an elephant I’d once seen on the Discovery Channel that was winging its butt hither and fro trying to get a tiger to unbuckle its teeth from his ass.
The sound of stampeding bulls came from far away coupled with the rat-tat-tat of gunfire.
Lindy’s eyes went wide and she pulled at her pants. Her belly flopped over the top of them like a yeast culture overgrowing its petri dish at 32x playback.
The outside door slammed into the wall and something cracked. Eritrean girls — some I recognized — poured into the room. Fnan kicked Lindy into an armchair that promptly buckled and snapped.
Chinese soldiers in gray camo and little red hats with a single yellow star each trailed after the women like bored kids on a clothes shopping trip with mom. One walked up, saluted me with a snap of his heels and pulled an eight-inch, black-handled Bowie knife from his gun belt. He held it up in front of his face and grinned at me.
I tried to scurry away.
Fnan grabbed my hand and I swiveled to face her. “Don’t worry, Mr. Nick, these men are Chinese Army, our allies.” She bowed to me and grinned like she’d just hooked a prize fish.
“Fnan, thank you for riding to my rescue. But I have to find someone and—”
Maddox burst into the room. “Oh my God, bro, you have no idea what we just went through looking for you.”
I shook my head and rolled my eyes at him. Fnan extended her arms and I hugged her, her long hair sticking in my mouth. She retracted and looked at me, expecting something more. She wanted me. Hell, this was the girl who invited me to Eritrea in the first place. She lobbied the government to pay our expenses.
“Have you selected the girl you wish to marry?”
I opened my mouth. How would I break the bad news to her without getting a Chinese slug in the cerebellum? A hand landed on my shoulder. I turned and one of the soldiers bowed to me.
“Please, sir, Nick…” His accent was thicker than frozen sweet-and-sour sauce. “Your flight leaves in…” He pulled back his velcro-tightened sleeve to reveal an oversized black watch. “…twelve hours. We need to make the arrangements for your wedding.”
I looked back at Fnan then stepped in closer to the soldier and whispered, “What if she’s a slave?”
His head jerked down and bounced back and forth. “Slave?”
I cringed. “Shh. Yes.”
“Ehhhh. Mmmmm. Slave girl? No, no, no. It must be an Eritrean girl over the age of fourteen, sir Nick. And please, hurry up. The girls are on strike unless more real men like you come to the country and marry.” He poked me in the chest and grinned. “You and your friends give them hope. Because all their men dead or dying from war.”
It hit me like a ton of lipstick cartridges. I wasn’t getting out of Africa alive unless I got married. Tonight. Fnan giggled and the soldier smiled.
“It’s called thalassophobia.”
“What? You’re so silly.” Fnan had struck sexy paydirt in her tight-fitting, plunging-neckline pearl wedding dress. Simple but classy, her more than adequate curves stood out in sharp relief. Her curled hair framed a girlish, bronzed face and brown eyes that any man could contemplate for hours at a stretch.
But I wasn’t any man. I wanted Fatima. Maybe it was stupid, maybe it was self-destructive but I didn’t want the safe choice, the solid girl, the regular woman.
I wanted a hot, sexy chick that lit my fire and kept it stoked all night!
“You’re smart, Fnan.” I wagged my finger at her. “Bring me out to sea in a boat, at night. Where do I go? It’s just shark-infested ocean. The shore is barely even lit up.” I looked back. If I jumped now at least I would be pointed in the right direction.
Or maybe I’d get turned around and not see the shore over the waves. I could end up in Yemen, if not the gullet of a hammerhead shark.
She put her arms around my neck and pulled me close. “Don’t worry. I always dreamed of getting married on the water. Isn’t it nice? And look, my father, the general, will marry us.”
From behind her, a pot-bellied man with sunglasses and a chest of medals sauntered out of the darkness. Fatima stood a step behind him to his left. She glanced at me, fiddled with her dress and looked down again.
The general reached a hand to her butt and pushed her forward. “You like, eh?”
Fnan’s face fell.
He took off his glasses. White eyes boiled in the blackness of his skin. “She is mine. I put a bullet through her father’s head and no man may take her except through battle.” He pulled a black pistol from his belt and pointed it at me.
I laughed. It was just too ridiculous. Two weeks ago, I was a kept man and lacked nothing but a little peace. Now, I was facing marriage to a strange woman, a bullet, a watery grave and being recycled into shark poop. I drew breath and laughed harder.
Fnan relaxed. The general closed his eyes, threw back his head and guffawed, his gun pointed at the sky.
It was all the chance I needed.
I darted at Fatima. I grabbed her hand and pulled her over the side of the boat.
A woman screamed. Gunshots rang out. Something heavy hit my head and it all went black.
“Don’t worry, I have a plan.”
“Do you have any cigarettes?”
I raised an eyebrow. She smokes? I don’t even date girls who smoke. She was gorgeous, despite being all wet, her hair a disaster, her green dress in tatters and her thin legs bruised. I loved her more as a hot mess.
Humid, sandy and salty, everything was sticky, and not in a good way. We had to go to Djibouti, the tiny nation just south of this tiny nation. I liked the sound of that because it ended in ‘booty.’
Not that I had the energy for it right now. But it was the only thing keeping me going.
I don’t know how we got to shore. She said she dragged me in but it seems impossible. In any case, it’s not just love anymore. I really owe this girl.
I cupped her hand in mine. “Are you gonna make it?”
She gave me her strongest smile. “I’m really thirsty. And hungry. There should be a restaurant up ahead. And we need a car.” Her clipped accent mesmerized me and I had to replay in my mind what she’d just said.
“How far is it?”
“At least five hundred kilometers.”
Five hundred kilometers?
“And the general will be coming after me. He told you a lie. He did not win me in battle. I am from Pakistan and he purchased me at an auction in the South Sudan. In Eritrea, this is legal because of his position but in Djibouti, my freedom will be respected and I will be able to get my papers.” She hugged me, her arms wrapping around my lower back, her salty-wet hair under my nose. “Will you help me?”
“Yes, yes, of course. I love—” I stopped myself. I got the distinct impression I was risking my life for a girl who just wanted to use me for her freedom. That may sound harmless but I’d bargained for something more.
“I love you, too.” She looked up at me with those curvy eyes of hers.
“Really? I mean, like, what are— I mean…” I cleared my throat. Talk like a man! “I want us to get married. I want to take you with me to the US, or for us to live together, anywhere really.”
She covered her mouth and giggled. “I want that, too.”
I grabbed her hand and strode forward with the self-confidence of a thousand mustangs. There was the restaurant. We’d eat. We’d get on a bus or something and get to Djibouti. After a week in bed, we’d figure out the rest. I’d get a job as a—
A scream like a Godzilla-sized wounded eagle and the restaurant exploded into an orange ball. Range Rover windshields popped and Honda dirt bikes fell over. Rocks and dust plopped to the dusty ground around us. I held her tight, my back and head shielding her body from the fallout.
Another scream boomed behind us and a smaller explosion registered down the road. Troops in brown camo poured from ground zero on foot and in jeeps.
Behind us, a column of tanks squeaked down the road. Rifle-wielding, quick-marching troops in bold Eritrean camo followed in rows and columns, their boots smacking the dusty road in unison, with a crack that soaked my brain in adrenaline. A dozen gray, thin-beaked Chinese attack choppers zoomed in low and Fatima’s dress flapped up to reveal plump butt cheeks.
“It’s the general. We have to hide!”
She grabbed my arm and pulled me off the road. We ran across a plowed field of red soil and made for a giant sycamore tree. Like a goliath’s green hat, discarded in the dirt, we huddled under it.
Shells landed not five hundred feet from us. I had to make my move. I pulled her tight and grabbed her generous behind.
“I want you now.”
“But we’re trapped. And we could die!”
“Love is a rebellion against death, baby.”
She slammed her lips into mine. I pulled up her dress, pushed her panties to one side and went to heaven.
“What if they ask for my papers?”
“They won’t. It won’t come to that.”
It’d better not. After three weeks aboard the MV Ascension, Fatima was undoubtedly with child. No internet, no TV, just sealing the deal morning, noon and night, condom-free. We dined on expired instant ramen bowls, took long romantic walks on deck and avoided the surly all-male crew.
A long strip of Caribbean highrises poked out of the ocean outside my porthole. Hello, Miami.
We were still unmarried. We had fifteen dollars and thirty-six cents left to our names. Neither of us had papers.
We had something better. We were compatible. Twenty-six days in the crucible that is a tiny cargo ship cabin proved that. We didn’t hate each other. We didn’t tire of the sex and we looked each other in the eye every single time we came. Which we did together, I might add.
This was Earth-shaking stuff. I was ready to slaughter Christians for her. I was declaring jihad on the world.
Because Fatima and I would live together forever in the forest with Dad, no matter what it took.
The door squeaked open and banged the wall. A buzz-cut old hag in a tan uniform stepped in. “US Immigration. Papers, please.”
“Uh…” I pulled my pants on. “Yeah, they’re in our other cabin.”
“Hurry up and go get ‘em. I don’t have all day.” She studied her clipboard.
I grabbed Fatima’s hand and pushed into the hallway.
The immigration agent squeezed my wrist. “The girl stays here.”
Well, there went my plan. It wasn’t much of a plan but you can hardly blame me. I’d been a little busy the last three weeks.
A length of heavy pipe and one hit to the back of the head. No. Then they’d be looking for us and Captain Hong would be in for it. Fatima squeezes out the porthole and into the sea. No. She and the baby’d be crushed between the ship and the dock on the next wave.
I sauntered down the hall, in no particular hurry. Coming clean would mean months in an underground holding cell for Fatima. The baby’d be born down there and immediately placed for adoption. Who knew what kind of charges I’d get.
Good thing I had a backup plan. There it was. I pulled the red lever and the ship’s horn and bells absorbed the known universe into their cacophony.
The immigration agent pushed past me, headed for the dock at breakneck speed. I grabbed our bag in one hand, gripped Fatima’s hand in the other and let my pride flow out through my grin. But she was tense.
We sprinted in the opposite direction from the agent. We climbed narrow stairs, did a one-eighty and climbed more narrow stairs. This became our life for a full five minutes until we were gasping for air like fish out of water and I was certain the immigration agent had called for backup.
We hit the deck and shuffled left. I lagged behind. Fatima was a real trooper. Or maybe she ached for her freedom more than I wanted mine. I couldn’t be sure.
Hong helped us into the lifeboat, a size x-x-small yacht with a covered bridge. I took the newspaper-wrapped box he needed delivered and we hopped in.
“Remember, the Four Seasons 4PM today, side gray door. If you’re not there, I have to give them your info to save my own neck.”
I grabbed his hand and squeezed. “Thanks, man.”
He raised his eyebrows and released the boat. We freefalled to the ocean forty feet below, splashed down and hit our heads on the ceiling.
Hong, you careless bastard! “You okay?”
She held her belly and looked up at the ceiling, then nodded, her face dark with worry.
I sparked the engine and jammed the throttle to full ahead. We zoomed away from the Ascension, past another huge cargo ship and then another. I turned left and we flew up a little inlet next to a sprawling gray warehouse. I ran the boat up onto shore. It rolled to one side and we jumped out.
The shadow of a helicopter fluttered next to us. We sprinted to the street, jumped onto a red and white city bus and found two seats.
“What are you going to do for money?”
“What do you do for money?”
I sliced off another chunk of green apple with my old boy scout knife and stuffed it into my mouth. Light, sweet and tart. Damn, that was good.
The pale yellow sun peaked above the pine-treed mountains to my right. Dad sat backwards in an old dining room chair to my left on the porch of his x-large Alaskan log cabin.
“So you’re going to hunt, forage and farm with me? It’s a hard life. Sometimes I work from before dawn to midnight and still I don’t have all the calories I want. Is Fatima up for that?” He looked at his watch. “Can’t usually sleep this late, definitely not in winter. You’re going to need cash for formula—”
“She’s going to breastfeed.”
“You better get her trained up then. There’s a midwife about ten miles to the South. You’ll need cash for her. The last thing you want is a hungry newborn and Fatima’s breasts not pumping.”
My mind folded in on itself. “Is that really a thing?”
“Happened to your mother. I knew it could because happened to Auntie Irma. Took your mom to a midwife but she refused to try. Shelled out for months of formula, bottles, all that junk, for you. That’s why you were sick so often.”
I didn’t know any of this stuff.
Dad laughed, that hearty one where he knew he knew more than you and was right but wasn’t making a big deal out of it. A Buddha kind of laugh. Very zen. But without the flapping belly.
He twitched his mustache at me. “You really don’t know what you’re in for, do you? Having a kid is not like going to the store to pick up the latest video game. It’s a big goddamned deal.” He sighed and stood up. “Tell you what, fatherhood classes start today. You ready?”
I stood up and thrust out my chest. “Ready, Dad!”
“Lesson one, go make breakfast. Canadian bacon, eggs, pancakes and some of that smoked caribou sausage on the side for me. Make sure Fatima gets her prenatal vitamins, too. Doc Johannson will be asking about that.”
I nodded in a manly fashion, turned and opened the screen door. The squeak distorted the sound of car tires on gravel. I stepped inside, pressed my back against the wall and held my breath.
The pink buggy jerked and flopped up to the porch. Two heavy girls in body armor and a third in a pink tutu popped out and gave each other nasty looks.
“Hello there, sir, we’re midwives looking for work.” The driver approached the front step. It was goddamned Lindy.
I wanted to scream out to Dad, to attack those bitches and hand them off to the bear family up the mountain.
“You don’t look like any midwives I’ve ever seen.”
The dressed-in-all-black roly-poly behind Lindy sighed. “Lindy, dear, this is not going to work. Look, sir.” She put her foot on the front step. “We’re Femforcers and we know you’re harboring fugitives. Turn them over and we won’t have to mount a picket line or declare your land a safe space.”
“A safe space?”
“We will issue a call to all good feminists within five-hundred miles to stop exploitation on your land, including hunting, trapping, animal husbandry, gardening—”
“Gardening is rape of Mother Earth.” The words shot from the pink tutu girl’s mouth like AK-47 gunfire.
“What?” Dad took a step back.
“You’ll have to receive sensitivity and equality training and there’ll be group therapy for you boys to release your burden of manhood, learn how to be vulnerable and share your feelings openly.”
“And that’s just the first six months.” The second fattie scratched her butt and picked her nose.
“I want you off my land.”
Lindy took another step up to the porch and the wood creaked like a bear in heat.
“We need to search your house. The police are just behind us.”
“But,” the second one piped up, “if you give us the boy, we’ll tell the cops the woman isn’t here and we’ll move on.”
“Neither of them are here.”
The other two women put their full weight on the porch steps. All three oak slabs gave way and the trio landed on their behinds in the dirt.
“I think we have a case to sue, for damages, distress, emotional anguish. It’s almost like he raped us. We’ll turn this place into a Femforcer solidarity retreat,” Lindy said.
It was just too much. I opened the screen door.
“I give up. Just leave my family alone.”
“Mr. Chesterton, you face a single charge of hate speech, fleeing custody, exiting the jurisdiction without prior permission, unlawful entry, bondage slavery, aiding and abetting an illegal alien, rape after the fact and I have an extradition request from the Republic of Eritrea for theft of property and breach of marriage contract.” The bald old judge looked down at me from his high perch over the tops of his bifocals. “Sounds like you had the meltdown of the century, young man. These are serious allegations and you’re facing life in prison on the hate speech charge alone.”
“Your honor, these charges are without merit and you have our motion to dismiss in front of you.”
That was my lawyer. The guys in Broseg gathered their dimes and their old bottle caps together and with a little help from Men Going Their Own Way, Inc., this well-muscled blond guy showed up.
“Motion to dismiss denied.”
My lawyer stood up. “Your honor, you haven’t even read—”
“That’s your first warning, Mr. Brotz. I will hold you in contempt if you keep it up.”
“I apologize your honor, this is my first Twitter trial.” My lawyer sat down.
“What do you mean, a ‘Twitter trial?’” I looked past him at the prosecutor, a twenty-something brunette with a man’s business haircut wearing a defense lawyer’s Armani suit. Lindy overflowed the chair next to her. Behind them, all dozen rows of benches were taken up by overweight women wearing the pink and yellow Femforcer sash.
Brotz put a hand between us and whispered, “It’s a new thing the Femforcers are doing whereby the Twitter community is the jury. The court is livestreaming the trial. Twits discuss it live and at the end, there is a straight up and down, guilty or not guilty vote that any previously verified twit can participate in. Except you and I, of course.”
“Why can’t we vote?”
“Conflict of interest.”
I looked for the windows. Then the air vents. I couldn’t find them. It was hot in here, too hot. “This is crazy. I need some air.” I stood up.
Every Femforcer behind the prosecutor rose and looked at me. Brotz pulled me back down.
“You’re in custody, Nick. Stepping outside for a breath of fresh air is an escape attempt. Now, relax. MGTOW, Inc. is marshaling the men for the vote. And Larry is upgrading the DAC. We’ve got this. Just make sure to be honest in court, to speak your mind, because your radical meninism is what will motivate our guys to support you.”
Meninism? “So I shouldn’t try to tone anything down?”
The front of the judge’s bench flickered. A screen came to life, taller than me and running its full-length, from the court reporter’s station to the end of the witness stand.
Words fell down from nowhere.
“RageParty365: Boring! Where are the gallows?”
“FemForcerOfficial: I want to see him castrated. Live!”
“ShitLordSprayxx99: Can we just vote right now and erase this cis scum from the planet forever?”
“FatimaAndDad: We love you and are waiting for your return.”
“HannaWantsBanana: @FatimaAndDad hold your breath and die in a fire bc he ain’t coming home. Ever!”
I looked at Brotz and he looked away. The whole world fell on me and I wished I’d never existed.
“This is bullshit!”
“That’s thirty days of sensitivity training at a sexcamp of the Femforcers’ choosing, Mr. Chesterton, to run consecutively with whatever sentence the jury hands down for you.”
This was no kangaroo court. It was a bounce house! The Femforcers blathered on for hours about how my meme hurt their feelings and my escape from ‘accountability’ offended their concept of justice. But the judge barely allowed Brotz to object.
And now he was handing out months in sexcamp like condoms in a middle school.
I looked back at my brother and nodded.
“What if the jury finds me not guilty, your honor?”
“Unlikely,” he mumbled. “Now, Mr. Brotz—”
“Excuse me, what did you say?”
“Mr. Brotz, do you wish to cross-examine this witness! And get your client under control.” He banged his gavel.
Brotz grabbed my shoulder and pulled.
“They’re railroading me here, man, you see that, too, right? It’s like they’re running a train on me, a legal train and I am just getting f—”
“Just stop.” He grabbed my other shoulder and turned me to face him. “We’re going to get this on appeal. We’ve got plenty of basis—”
“Appeal? No, no, no. You said you had this. How long does that take?”
“Mr. Brotz, you are trying my patience!” The judge banged his gavel again.
He looked up at the ceiling. “With the backlog, about ten years. Then a couple more to complete the process.”
“Ninety days in sexcamp, Mr. Chesterton and fifteen for you, Mr. Brotz, to begin immediately.” The judge banged his gavel.
“You’re taking my lawyer from me now?” This was insane. I’d caught a few episodes of Matlock and missed not one of LAPD Judges, but this was nothing like that! “Now, wait, your honor—”
The bailiff thumped her feet over and snagged Brotz’s arm. She pulled him through the little swinging doors and past the leering Femforcers.
“Good luck, Nick!” Brotz shrugged.
“Fifteen-minute recess.” The judge banged his gavel once more and disappeared.
The bailiff shot me a menacing look and I raised my hands in surrender.
Maddox appeared behind me. “Ask for a bathroom break and then climb out the bathroom window. Turn left and we’ll be waiting.”
Maddox retreated and I focused on the Twitter feed. It was ninety-nine percent racist sexist hate with the occasional love note from Fatima and every once in awhile a demand for marriage by some random post-wall tumblrina.
I stood up, found the bailiff and mouthed, “Bathroom break.”
She firmed her jaw, tightened her eyes and nodded in a slow, angry bob.
I pushed through the swinging doors with tight little steps. My hands were free but the leg cuffs jingled with every midget stride.
I got into the hallway. I looked left, then right. A gaggle of Femforcers plodded towards me, like gnomes in sumo suits. I turned left.
There it was. The little white man running to freedom. Or to avoid soiling his pants. I turned left and headed straight to the end.
Just one short window, shaped like a 1950s TV set, promised release into another world. It hung above a ribbed radiator.
I put my hand on the radiator then whipped it back. Hot!
I tried to raise a foot onto the radiator but they were cuffed. I’d have to grab onto the windowsill and pull myself up without the benefit of my legs. I reached for it.
The door burst open behind me. Femforcers plodded in. Two grabbed my arms and pulled me down.
Lindy walked to the front of the passel and showed me her crooked, yellow teeth.
“Good news, Nick. Your girlfriend is arriving in five minutes to face some charges of her own. With both of you in a cage for the foreseeable future, I’m on the shortlist to adopt your kid.”
“So, you see, members of the jury, I am just a humble man looking for true love, a hopeless romantic desperate for a chance at being a regular human guy. A man. With a woman. And kids. Everything I did,” I said into the quadrotored camera lens, “I did in order to fulfill my—”
“Loser cis scum!”
I looked up at the judge. He’d fallen asleep again, a bead of saliva on the cusp of his lip.
“To fulfill my destiny as a man by serving a good woman with love—”
“An exploited brown underage trafficking victim from the third world!”
I looked back at the Femforcers. They sat in neat rows and columns in their creamy pink shirts with their arms crossed, like a jumbo box of heart-healthy eggs.
I looked down at my public defender. He was lost somewhere else. Didn’t dare speak up against a woman. Not if he wanted to keep his crappy eighty-grand-a-year vocation.
“The highest law is love. And that’s all I wanted, not duty or drudgery, not nagging or whining. Love and hot sex. And a quiet life in the woods with my dad and lots of kids. And that’s what she wants too.
“I posted the meme that started all of this in a moment of desperation, something I’m sure all of you fine ladies out there can identify with.” Damn. I shouldn’t have said that. “But in the end, this is about freedom. I’m a human being, just like any lady, and I deserve the freedom to live outside of Broseg, on my own, without a woman sponsor—”
A great intake of breath came from behind me, like the sputtering of a thousand sperm whale blowholes.
“How dare you!” a Femforcer said.
“Next he’ll want the right to travel freely!” another said.
“Men are beasts that require constant control to keep them from raping indiscriminately,” yet another interjected.
“And to travel freely to other countries, marry and have children with any woman who voluntarily consents—”
The Twitter feed exploded. Messages flew down so fast I could only catch the memes.
And they were all Sad Hitler now.
I sat down. No one was going to hear me over the pussy riot behind me. At this point, my only hope was the DAC. This wonder software had to date published precisely one tweet in support of me.
They’d better get the vote right.
“Your honor!” The androgynous prosecutor stood up and the judge startled awake. “If the defense rests…”
“Indeed. Move to penalty phase.”
I banged my fist on the table. “Excuse me, I haven’t been convicted yet.”
“You will be.”
“What?” Did he really say that?
“Sit down, defendant!” He banged his gavel and the wooden base flipped off and landed on the floor at my feet. He cocked an eyebrow.
I looked away. I wouldn’t be a party to my own destruction. I wouldn’t retrieve his little wooden disc. It wasn’t a meaningful gesture, but it was all I had.
“If that’s how you want it. Begin the voting.” He stood up, lumbered down from his perch, got the disc and hmphed at me.
The screen flashed static, then black. Two words appeared: “Guilty” in red all-caps; and “Not Guilty” in green lowercase. Two zeros and a percentage sign appeared under each. The zeros spun like cherries in a slot machine.
The first numbers popped up. Sixty-nine percent guilty. I looked back at Maddox. His face was red and he was yelling into his phone.
Text appeared under the percentages.
“Death Penalty: 15%”
“Life in Sexcamp: 25%”
The public defender leaned in, whiskey and onions on his breath. “Keep in mind that any sentence over twenty percent will be binding upon you.”
I sunk deep into my seat. I was a dead man. If they didn’t do it, I would. Nobody was going to take my boys.
“How long does the voting—”
The judge banged his gavel. “Voting is now closed! Order in the court!”
I looked at the public defender. “Already?”
He stood up. “Your honor, we beg the court for mercy. This trial by Twitter is new and untested. Your honor has the power to set aside its verdict, at your—”
“Sit down. The defendant is found guilty of all charges. He will serve life in a sexcamp at the discretion of the Femforcers. And he will be castrated at the earliest possible moment.” He fixed his stare upon me. “Mr. Chesterton, my only regret is that we fell three points short of the death penalty. Bailiff, remand the defendant into the custody of the Femforcers.”
The world holds dangers for a man. Ten thousand years ago, a random saber-toothed tiger could take you out. Today, you might walk to the 7-Eleven, guzzle a couple sodas and burn your esophagus. Or the sedentary life of modern screencentric man could blow out your arteries.
But one threat has remained constant: women. Then, it was your own desire and the hungry, wailing babies it produced.
Today, women were the predators. And it was time someone — some man — took a stand.
Maddox was at my back. I reached and found cold steel. I settled the pistol grip into the webbing between thumb and forefinger. I pulled back the slide and pointed it at the judge, my arm a ramrod of death.
“Get over here!”
The judge stepped down from his bench and I grabbed him by the back of the neck.
“Please don’t hurt me. I have a family.” His upper lip trembled and his dark-circled eyes shot from side to side.
“So do I!” I pushed him ahead of me. Maddox, Larry and Dad pushed the Femforcers up against the wall, grunting like wildebeest as one coward stampeded the next.
The bailiff drew and I shot her.
“I was going to surrender.” She fell to her knees, blood trickling from her arm.
Dad shook his head at me.
We burst into the corridor.
“Dad, where is she?”
“The Femforcers have her. They say if you cooperate and serve your sentence, they’ll release her into my custody. But if you don’t, they’ll abort the baby. They think she was raped and say the fetus is oppressing her.”
“And then, he told the leader that if she dropped trou right there, he’d do her. And she did!”
“We know, Dad, we were all there.”
“And then he kicked her plum in the—”
“Dad, enough!” I rolled my eyes and snuggled up against Fatima. I ran my hand over her tummy. Eight and a half months. She was big. Her back ached and she was eating ice cream by the gallon. But she was a trooper. Barely ever complained and still tried to cook and clean.
But I’d have none of it. It was strict bed rest for the foreseeable future.
“And then he rescued me.” Fatima pecked me on the cheek and smiled at the group.
“But I do not understand. Why all of this big deal about love and sex?” Fnan sat on the long, green couch and gripped Maddox’s beerless hand between her two palms. Next to them, Larry’d captured the mouth of Fatima’s older sister Asma, and refused to let go.
“Love makes the world go around.” I sighed. “And when you don’t have love, that world has got to stop spinning. Plus, what else is there?”
Dad pried his hand from his fiancée’s long black fingers and looked at his watch. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s bedtime. Come on. We’re building Jeff and Zewdi’s house tomorrow and it needs to be move-innable by the end of the week.”
I put my head on Fatima’s shoulder and she leaned into me. It might be Alaska. Winter was coming and our cultures were barely compatible, but we had love, all of us. And with any luck, we’d keep having it, for the rest of our lives, damn the Femforcer blockade.
Book 2 Out Soon
Get notified when book 2 in the Femforcers series is available:
CLICK THIS LINK
Get 3 free books at GeorgeDonnelly.com.
I NEED YOU…
Without reviews, indie books like this can’t find their audience.
Leaving a review will only take a minute — just a sentence or two that tells people what you liked about Man at Large, to help other readers know why they might like it, too, and to help me write more of what you love.
The truth is, VERY FEW readers leave reviews.
Be the exception. Help me find my audience.
Write a review today.
Former starship redshirt turned rag-clad resistance fighter, George Donnelly is the author of space opera, cyberpunk & post-apocalyptic science fiction series. A single unschooling expat dad, George prefers zombies to aliens but is primed for any meatspace apocalypse minus grey goo.
For more books by George Donnelly,
Women rule. Uncommitted men rot in prison awaiting selection by overworked, love-starved spinsters. Cocksman Nick Chesterton just got dumped. With a return to Broseg No. 34 in the offing, he publicly ridicules his ex and finds himself a fugitive from the Femforcers on a sexist meme charge. But the lovelorn ladies of war-torn Eritrea liked his meme. They invite Nick to visit their African nation, select a bride, or three, and live happily ever after. Or so they say. Facing six weeks in Femforcer sexcamp, Nick must make a life-altering decision between the loss of his sexual identity and the risk of multiple marriages in a jihadi war zone.